Veepstakes 2012: Cathy McMorris Rodgers becoming a House stalwart

“Phyllis Schlafly and Margaret Thatcher were among my earliest political heroes,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, vice-chairman of the House Republican Conference (R-Wash.), told me during a recent interview, “It is with them in mind that I try to recruit more and more conservative, pro-family women to run for Congress as Republicans.”

With that, the four-term House member from Spokane, Wash., left no doubt about where she is coming from politically (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 93.80 percent).

McMorris Rodgers recalled how only two conservative Republican women were elected to the House in 2002: Candice Miller (Mich.) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.). However, McMorris Rodgers noted, “in 2010, that number shot up to nine — nine new House Republicans, all conservative, all pro-life and pro-family, and all women. I pointed out that those nine Republican women elected to the House set an all-time record, beating that of 1994 when Republicans won the House and elected seven new congresswomen.

“And as more and more women see each other running and getting elected, they will run and win as well—and Democrats won’t be able to say that Republicans are somehow ‘anti-women’ and get away with it,” McMorris Rodgers said.

Along with recruiting fellow conservative Republicans who happen to be women to seek seats in Congress, the 42-year-old lawmaker uses her perch as the top-ranking woman in the House Republican hierarchy to hone her party’s communications skills. The GOP’s losing the 2008 presidential election in good part because of Barack Obama’s successful deployment of social media was, in McMorris Rodgers’ words, “as much a wake-up call about the critical importance of using the new media as the 1960 campaign was about television.” Accordingly, the conference vice chairman is helping to oversee laboratories that teach Republican House members how to go to the next level of communicating to voters. She proudly pointed out that, in three years, the number of Republican candidates using the tools of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube has shot up from 30 percent to 95 percent. At the Evergreen State congresswoman’s prodding, top bloggers nationwide are being identified for information and cultivation by Republican House members and their press secretaries.

Almost any interview with Cathy McMorris Rodgers segues quite quickly to the issues of the day that she is working on. As HUMAN EVENTS readers know, she has been leading the charge on Capitol Hill to seriously question the role of the U.S. in the International Monetary Fund.

Last year, alarmed by the multi-billion-dollar IMF bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal and nervous that any default will mean U.S. taxpayers will be left holding the bag, McMorris Rodgers introduced HR 2313, which would secure the return of any unused U.S. tax dollars from an earlier $100 billion IMF package from the U.S. and apply it to our deficit. So far, the measure has 91 co-sponsors. A similar proposal in the Senate, (SR 1975) introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), has 25 co-sponsors.

Earlier this year, McMorris Rodgers finally secured a meeting in her office with IMF Managing Director Christine LaGarde to discuss the use of Americans’ tax dollars by the IMF. One thing that came out of the meeting was that LaGarde disclosed how much remains of the U. S’s $100 billion, which was requested by Barack Obama and narrowly approved by Congress when it was in Democratic hands in ‘09. The amount used so far is $28 billion and, as McMorris Rodgers told HUMAN EVENTS at the time, “[LaGarde] told me something that the U.S. Treasury Department and [Secretary Tim] Geithner had never told me.”

The congresswoman has also taken up the cause of women in Afghanistan, and formed a bipartisan task force in Congress to deal with the plight of oppressed women in that war-torn country. As McMorris Rodgers sees it, “by highlighting the plight of women who are so oppressed by the terrorist side, we demonstrate that the war on terrorism is a fight for human rights.”

How did talk of Cathy for Veep start?

In large part because of her standing in the House leadership, the articulate McMorris Rodgers has often been thrust “front and center” before the cameras and, as a result, has been boomed as a candidate for higher office. Although she has almost completely brushed aside talk of running for governor or U.S. senator, a “boomlet” for McMorris Rodgers as the running mate with the GOP presidential nominee appears under way.

Fitting for someone who preaches the advantages of having mastery of social media, the “Cathy for Veep” talk was conceived in cyberspace.

Last month, the online news site Daily Caller raised a few eyebrows with a lead story titled “Cathy McMorris Rodgers Could Be the Fall Vice Presidential Surprise.” Smart Girl Politics later weighed in with a feature asking whether the congresswoman was “Our Next Vice President.” Soon Fox News, The Hill, and local network affiliates reported the speculation that McMorris Rodgers, whose state has 11 electoral votes, could become the third woman in history to be the vice presidential nominee of a major political party.

“It’s certainly an honor to be considered or even mentioned,” she told me. “But I have always focused on being the best U.S. representative I can be. I consider myself a reformer and I want to make a difference while I’m here. And of course, there’s a lot of talent out there for our eventual nominee to consider.”

Balanced budget amendment in her upbringing

Rep. McMorris Rodgers and I reminisced for a bit about the first time we met. That was back in ’04, when she was the Republican nominee for Congress in Washington State’s 5th District.

At the time, Rodgers was minority leader of her state’s house of representatives, where she had previously spent a decade and chaired the House Commerce and Labor Committee. Seemingly destined for a political career at the state level, she shifted gears and opted for a congressional race when Republican Rep. George Nethercutt decided to run for the U.S. Senate. The young legislator rolled up nearly half the primary vote against two opponents and in the fall crushed her millionaire Democratic opponent by a 3-to-2 margin. She has never had difficulty with re-election.

Ever since she was tapped for a vacancy in the state house in 1994 a few years after graduation from Pensacola Christian College, the congresswoman has been dealing first-hand with public policy. But, as she tells friends, that passion for issues began a lot earlier. Growing up on a farm in Eastern Washington and working at both a family-owned fruit stand and behind a McDonald’s counter to pay for college, young Cathy learned the value of a dollar and the need to avoid debt.

“My experiences growing up really made me passionate about enacting a balanced budget amendment today,” says McMorris Rodgers, who also holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Washington. Last year, she was a Republican “mover and shaker” behind securing an up-or-down House vote on the BBA.

Married to retired U.S. Navy commander and aviator Brian Rodgers, the congresswoman is the mother of youngsters Cole and Grace—and the only woman to have given birth twice while in Congress.

“I do see women voters shifting to the Republican Party and doing so significantly,” she insists. “And the issue that’s doing this is the fear the federal government will prevail in making the Affordable Health Care Act permanent law and how that will hurt small business. At a time when two-thirds of new businesses that began last year were started by women and the computer has made it possible for someone to launch a business from the basement, that’s a lot of small businesses that are going to be hurt.”

Vice President Cathy McMorris Rodgers? There have been more unanticipated choices for the job that is a heartbeat away from the presidency. In recalling her first election to Congress, The Almanac of American Politics in 2008 pointed out that “[t]he last time Eastern Washington elected a 35-year-old to Congress—[Democrat] Thomas Foley in 1964—he rose through the ranks and eventually became speaker of the House. “No one is yet predicting a similar ascent for Cathy McMorris Rodgers, elected at 35, but her background suggests that she is primed for the leadership track.” Now she is in leadership and the day after our interview, the response to the president’s weekly address on national radio was delivered by Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

This is the second in a series of one-on-one interviews with vice presidential contenders. Next week, John Gizzi profiles Gov. Bob McDonnell.

To read the interview with Sen. Marco Rubio, click here.